Past Event

The Restitution Debate: African Art in a Global Society

October 18, 2019
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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Watch videos, below. 

In November 2018, Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy released a report that had been prepared for the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, entitled The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics. This report has set in motion a debate that could have a profound impact on the status of African art held in collections around the world.

During the full-day international symposium, the authors of the report will present their recommendations and reflect on the response that they have received over the past year. A panel of curators, scholars, and cultural entrepreneurs will respond to the issues, which have broad ramifications resonating well beyond Africa and Europe.


Erica P. Jones (Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles);
Daouda Keïta (Musée National du Mali, Bamako);
Pap Ndiaye (Institut d’études politiques de Paris);
Alain Patrice Nganang (Stony Brook University, New York);
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (The Museum of Modern Art, New York);
​​​Ciraj ​​Rassool (University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa);
Felwine Sarr (Université Gaston Berger, Saint-Louis, Senegal);
Bénédicte Savoy (Technische Universität Berlin; Collège de France);
Z. S. Strother (Columbia University);
and Marie-Cécile Zinsou (Fondation Zinsou, Cotonou, Bénin).

Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University) will serve as moderator and philosopher Paulin J. Hountondji (Université Nationale du Bénin, Cotonou) will act as respondent and lead the final discussion. David Freedberg (Columbia University) will open the symposium.

This event is part of the Academy's International Observatory for Cultural Heritage.

Presented by:
Institute of African Studies, Columbia University
With the generous support of:
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Department of Art History, Barnard College
Maison Française, Columbia University
And with a grant from:
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


Symposium Details

9:00 Opening remarks
David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art; Director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, New York

9:10 Welcome
Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of Philosophy; Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, New York

9:25 “African artifacts: the next step, a new relational ethic”
Felwine Sarr, Professor at the University Gaston Berger in Saint Louis, Senegal

9:45 “Transparence, amnésie. 40 ans de débats sur la restitution, 1978–2019” / “Transparency, amnesia: 40 years of debates on restitution, 1978–2019”
Bénédicte Savoy, Professor of Modern Art History at the Institute of Art History and Historical Urban Studies at the Technische Universität Berlin

10:10 Discussion

10:30–10:45 Coffee break

11:00 “Can products of the imagination be sent back to tyrannies?”
Patrice Nganang, Writer, Professor at Stony Brook University, New York

11:20 "Post–Sarr-Savoy Report: matters arising"
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

11:40 Discussion

12:00–1:30 Break

1:30 “Restitution, disciplines and decolonization”
Ciraj Rassool, Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape; Director, African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies, Cape Town, South Africa

1:50 “The life of the Bamenda Provincial Museum (Cameroon): audience, funding, and infrastructure”
Erica P. Jones, Associate Curator of African Arts, Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles

2:10 “African art and the African diaspora in a historical perspective”
Pap Ndiaye, Professor of History at the Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po, Paris

2:30 Discussion

3:00–3:15 Coffee break

3:15 “Réapproprions-nous nos biens culturels méconnus” / “Let's reappropriate our unknown cultural heritage”
Daouda Keïta, Director of the Musée National du Mali, Bamako

3:35 “Our history’s future”
Marie-Cécile Zinsou, President of the Fondation Zinsou, Cotonou, Bénin

3:55 “Listening”
Zoë Strother, Riggio Professor of African Art at Columbia University, New York

4:15 Discussion
Paulin J. Hountondji, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the Université Nationale du Bénin, Cotonou 

Professor Hountondji will respond to the conference as a whole and lead an open discussion


Morning Session Video

Afternoon Session Video